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The Vol’s National Signing Day: the good, the bad and the ugly
- Updated: February 7, 2013
Hey, y’all – throughout the past month, a handful of you have reached out via emails, tweets and FB wall posts with questions about recruits. It seems like many of you followed this year’s class like never before. Which is exactly why I asked a friend of mine to write a recruiting wrap-up post. But not just any friend. Nope. I asked the Twitter artist currently known as @VolRumorMill.
If you’re on Twitter and you’re not following him, you really need to get on that. The dude’s very in touch and gets great smack. One of the few, in fact, I turn to when I’m looking for the straight dope. Plus, he’s an engaging writer, to boot. So who better to give us an assessment of what just went down than him, right? NOTE — be sure to click on the hyperlinks of any players who might be of particular interest to you, as each such link will lead you either an official recruiting profile or a YouTube highlight reel.
So here it is, friends. The recruiting wrap-up post from a guy who, like you, is all VOL, y’all:
Thanks, John. Glad for the opportunity to give a glimpse into the machine that is big time college football recruiting. For those who have followed recruiting in the past, I would like to congratulate you for surviving another season. For those who are just now tasting this drug… allow me to enhance its effect:
Christmas for a seven-year-old is the closest thing to National Signing Day for grown-ass men. Signing Day means little sleep the night before, waking up early the morning of, and throwing all kinds of tantrums during the day when you don’t get the
presents players that you really wanted. Signing Day as a fan is like watching someone you care about (the coaches) through a plate-glass window as they bid in a silent auction for an item that you both desperately covet (elite prospects). You know you both really want it, you know they are going to give it all they can to get that item, and you know that you are going to have to wait until the end to see if they wind up inking that prized pinball machine…or in the case of Signing Day, that prized blue-chip athlete.
This year was much like all the others, really. We got some guys we knew we’d get, we got some guys we weren’t sure we’d get, and we missed on some guys that we really could have used. Knowing the amount of work that Butch Jones and his staff put into the 31 days that they had to recruit players to the University of Tennessee, I expected a slightly better finish. I’m not suggesting that Butch and his staff did poorly or that they won’t be successful here. The trouble is that 31 days was just not enough time to put together a recruiting class from scratch when having to compete with the Urban Meyers, Jimbo Fishers, and bags and bags and bags of cash in the states of Alabama and Mississippi.
All in all, I think Tennessee fans were left feeling….well….whelmed. Not overwhelmed, not underwhelmed, just…whelmed. Sure, there were exciting times and disappointing times sprinkled in throughout the day, but in the end when you look at the class I think it is kind of what we all could have realistically expected. A program coming off of three consecutive losing seasons, two strait seasons ending in November, and four head coaches in five years could not realistically, REALISTICALLY, expect to swing a top 10 class…unless we had previously attended the ‘Hugh Freeze School for Baffling Recruiting Results’.
So instead of lamenting all the players who decided not to be Volunteers, let’s turn our attention towards supporting the ones that did. Below is a position by position breakdown of the Vols’ final class for 2013.
The Good: positions the Vols nailed
Wide Receiver/Tight End: The Vols pulled together a more-than-solid WR haul for this class. It was already a strong class with Ryan Jenkins, Paul Harris, and Josh Smith…but when the Vols added MarQuez North of North Carolina last week it took the Vols WR class to the next level. Tennessee will likely have two first-round receivers taken in the upcoming NFL draft and as a school that prides itself as being called ‘Wide Receiver-U,’ Tennessee coaches and fans should be more than happy with what was brought in at that position in 2013.
The additions at the TE position are also pretty solid for the Vols. Tennessee has a couple good ones on campus already, but did well to add Woody Quinn and A.J. Branisel. Woody Quinn might well be the sleeper of this class. The JUCO transfer from California is big target at 6’6 260lbs, and is also a very good athlete at that size who knows how to get open and catch the ball. As he learns the offense and its blocking schemes, he could make some noise early at TE for Tennessee in 2013.
Key WR/TE Signee: MarQuez North
This guy is the total package. He is a blend of Da’Rick Rogers, Justin Hunter, and Cordarrelle Patterson. He is big, tall, physical, strong, fast and an athletic freak. He also played a lot of running back in high school, so he isn’t going to shy away from contact. At 6’4 and 205lbs with a sub-4.5 40, it’s safe to say that of all the signees in this class, he may be the most likely to have the biggest impact as a freshman.
Quarterback: Tennessee has to feel very good about their two signees at the quarterback position, Riley Ferguson and Joshua Dobbs. Ferguson, also from North Carolina, had been committed since June and turned down interest from Alabama down the stretch. Riley has a good arm and good mobility (a likely theme in Butch Jones’ offensive system). Dobbs was a late addition to the class, switching his commitment from Arizona State to Tennessee in the final hour. Both of these QBs have tremendous upside and should leave Tennessee in good hands at the position for the next four years. If you don’t believe me, check out this quote from a guy who knows a thing or two about the quarterback position:
“Tennessee got the best quarterback recruiting class in the country with Josh Dobbs and Riley Ferguson.”
– Trent Dilfer
Key Signee: Joshua Dobbs
Dobbs has the tools and the brains to be a program-changer at this level of football. He is a straight-A student and has never missed a day of school in his life. A two-sport athlete in high school on the football field and baseball diamond, Dobbs will benefit greatly as he begins to focus strictly on football. He has good speed and a great arm, but will undoubtedly benefit from the time spent in the weight room. Josh has tremendous upside and the staff thinks he is a championship-caliber quarterback.
The Bad: areas where the Vols could have done better
Offensive Line: The Vols signed some quality players on the OL in this class, but they just didn’t sign enough of them. There are five offensive linemen on the field for every offensive snap and it also happens to be one of the hardest positions when it comes to predicting future success. So generally, the more you can get…the better. Tennessee signed three offensive linemen this year with Brett Kendrick, Austin Sanders and Dylan Wiesman. With Tennessee’s plethora of experienced linemen already on campus, it is unlikely that any of these three will be relied upon until 2014, giving them time to mature and learn the system.
Key OL Signee: Austin Sanders
Austin is a 6’6, 300lbs and has the frame to push 330 with ease. He has tremendous footwork and the skill-set to be one of the top linemen in the SEC. Like most freshmen, he will benefit greatly from sitting and learning from a slew of veteran offensive linemen. Austin is a longtime Vol fan and chose Tennessee because he wants to be part of returning the program to prominence.
Defensive Line: Tennessee failed to sign a single defensive tackle in the 2013 class. In the SEC, this cannot happen. Not signing a DT this year means that the staff will be under tremendous pressure next year to land some studs. Add to that the fact that Tennessee will lose Daniel McCullers, Mo Couch and Daniel Hood to graduation after the upcoming season, the staff will be under the gun to sign not only quality DTs next year, but also a bunch of them.
While Tennessee didn’t get anything rolling with tackles, they did get three really good Defensive Ends. They fought off Alabama to keep Jason Carr and were able to pick up Jaylen Miller and Malik Brown on Signing Day. I think the coaches feel good about some of the young talent they already have at DE, so these guys should be able to grow into their roles over time. In the SEC you can never have too many quality defensive linemen, so it will be important that Butch Jones and his staff recruit better here in the future.
Key DL Signee: Jason Carr
Jason has the size, speed, quickness and ability to become a tremendous DE in this league. All he lacks is the proper technique. As he studies the game and learns the ins and outs of his position, he will quickly grow into a terror for opposing quarterbacks. He’s a bigger DE at 6’6, 280lbs, but his size doesn’t slow him down at all. He has a good first step and is very good at shedding blocks to get to the ball carrier.
Defensive Back: Some would argue that DB’s were a bigger position of need, and thus that we could have done a much better job in this class. Personally, however, I think that we have some good DBs on campus that were put in poor schemes all last season due to inept coaching. I look for the guys currently on campus to be the most improved unit on the team in 2013. That said, I still think that the Vols signed some players this year that can really impact the secondary in the coming years. Cameron Sutton and Riyhad Jones are the only ‘true’ DBs that Tennessee signed this year, but athletes Malik Foreman and Lemond Johnson will likely get their first cracks in the defensive backfield. These four players all possess good speed, a much needed attribute in the secondary, but with the exception of Foreman they also have really nice size for an SEC defensive back. Foreman is 5’10 but the rest come in at over 6 feet tall…and with the size of typical SEC receivers hovering in the ginormous range, the added inches will play a big role.
Key DB Signee: Lemond Johnson
Lemond is the personification of the word athlete. In high school he played running back, quarterback, wide receiver, safety, cornerback and a little bit at linebacker. I think his ranking on recruiting sites suffered because he was unable to specialize at one position during high school, thus making it harder to really evaluate him at any given spot on the field. He is the type of player that could really blossom once he is able to devote his time to learning one position under one coach. I think he gets his first look at safety, but I would not be shocked if he also gets a chance to be a physical lock-down corner.
The Ugly: areas where the Vols didn’t do very well at all
Linebacker: The Vols only signed one LB in this class, Winter Garden, Florida’s Corey Vereen. Vereen’s film (seen here) is fun to watch. He has good size, great speed and an exceptional motor and drive until the whistle blows. He lined up mostly as a pass-rushing DE in high school and could grow into that same role at Tennessee. My guess, however, is that they keep his weight under 235, use him as an outside linebacker, and let him use that speed and aggressiveness to fly to the football. But the Vols needed bodies at LB and signing only one makes this position a crucial one to fill in 2014.
Running Back: Tennessee was only able to ink one RB in this class, but I think they got a steal in Jabo Lee. Lee was hurt during his senior season, suffering a knee injury in the first game that really limited his ability to play the rest of the season. Jabo will get opportunities once he gets healthy, but even then it is hard to see him as an every down back in the Southeastern Conference. I also think that 4-star Athlete Jalen Reeves-Maybin will get his first look at RB and could find his niche there. If that ends up happening then the outlook at this position looks much more favorable.
National Signing Day Summary
Coach Jones and his staff truly were put in one of the toughest positions possible. They were brought in at the tail end of three losing seasons as the fourth coaching staff at Tennessee in the last five years. They were also faced with repairing recruiting relationships that had simply fallen by the wayside under the previous staff. Players like Jalen Ramsey and Vonn Bell never felt coveted by the former staff and that made it nearly impossible for Butch and his staff to have any reasonable shot at persuading them to pick Tennessee. There were tough misses down the stretch when talking about players like Derrick Green, Rudy Ford, E.J. Levenberry, Davin Bellamy and Tyler Boyd…players that Tennessee coaches thought they had a real shot at signing. In the end, however, 31 days simply is not enough time to expect any staff to secure a top class under the conditions that the staff was facing. In the end, Tennessee had the highest ranked class of teams coming off two losing seasons and had the second highest class of teams that didn’t go bowling last year behind Auburn (Ohio State excluded).
Jones and his staff already have a huge leg-up for the 2014 class with 4 star athlete Vic Wharton committed and many “legacies” that have the Vols at or near the top of their list. Players like Dillon Bates, Neiko Creamer, Elliot and Evan Berry and Todd Kelly Jr. The amount of in-state talent is also exceptionally strong with arguable the nation’s top RB, Jalen Hurd, and one of the country’s top WRs in Josh Malone. With a year to repair and create relationships with players, I don’t think that a top 10 class is an unreasonable expectation at this point. Obviously, Tennessee needs to prove that they can compete and win games in the SEC. Recruits want to go to a school where they feel like they will be well coached and have the opportunity to win some big games. Time will tell whether Butch Jones and his staff can do that at Tennessee…but I wouldn’t bet against them.
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